Federal Communications Commission today took the first step to open television
broadcast spectrum for broadband use. The commissioners unanimously approved a
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to add new allocations for fixed and land mobile
services in the TV spectrum that would be co-primary with broadcasting. The
additional designation would make television spectrum equally available at
auction for broadcasting and wireless broadband.
The notice also proposes a framework of rules to allow two or more TV stations
to operate on a single 6 MHz channel--the current allocation for one full-power
TV station license. Channel-sharing stations would retain must-carry rights,
the FCC’s Alan Stillwell said. Channel-sharing would not increase or decrease
carriage rights on any type of multichannel system. The docket will be open for
comment on the technical feasibility of channel sharing.
The third major proposal in today’s NRPM involves “increasing utility of VHF
bands for TV services,” Stillwell said. Reception of digital TV at very high
frequency channels--2-13--is not nearly what it was for analog broadcasting.
Digital VHF has proven notoriously poor, as observed by transmission expert
Doug Lung more than six years ago. (See
“Low-band VHF DTV Revisited,”
from TV Technology,
May 5, 2004.)
The FCC’s notice proposes to increase the allowable maximum power for
broadcasters in VHF channels--with considerations for interference--and to
establish minimum performance standards of indoor antennas.
A VHF reception solution will be a tall order, Commissioner Michael Copps allowed.
He recounted the difficulties of resolving the flood of VHF reception
complaints following the June 2009 digital transition.
“Real remedies were few and far between,” he said.
Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker wasn’t at the agency for the DTV transition,
but noted that it was only “a year and five months” since broadcasters did the
deed. She was the only one of the five commissioners who said current
transmission and compression schemes ought to be reconsidered.
“In the future, there needs to be a discussion of the sharing of broadcast and
broadband in the TV bands,” including a migration from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4
compression, and from ATSC to OFDM transmission. She also suggested exploring a
cellular infrastructure for broadcasting.
Baker said the FCC also needed support from Congress
to carry out its intentions, particularly
with regard to incentive auctions. The concept behind incentive auctions is to
give broadcasters who voluntarily relinquish spectrum licenses a piece of the
resulting auction proceeds. The FCC has no legislative mechanism to conduct
such a procedure.
Commissioner Robert McDowell approved the item but questioned it as the most
efficient route to achieve nationwide wireless broadband--the commission’s
stated goal. Broadcasters are already allowed to offer alternatives services,
including data services he said.
“How would this work in the context of wireless broadband?” he asked
rhetorically. “Would this approach be a faster means of getting wireless
broadband into the market as opposed to channel sharing?”
McDowell was around for the DTV transition and recalled the VHF issues as well.
“Industry and FCC engineers scrambled to overcome reception and interference
issues in the VHF channels,” he said. “Before the FCC moves broadcasters back
into those channels, I want to understand the ramifications.”
Copps said the procedure to open broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband
should be approached with “cautious optimism.” He voiced support for the
broadcast industry, while chiding it for not doing more in the name of public
interest. In that regard, he said much of the broadcast spectrum goes
“Public interest multicasting remains all too much a concept, but not a
reality,” he said.
The people affected by spectrum policy don’t think about it, he said. They just
want their phones and TVs to work. And auctioning off massive amounts of
spectrum to incumbent wireless providers isn’t going to result in cheaper
service, he said.
-- Deborah D. McAdams